SUMMER ADVENTURES: Glacier Bay and the Kahsteen

We left the Gustavus Inn to join Captain Mike Nigro on the Kahsteen, his 42-foot charter boat, for a two-day excursion in the Glacier Bay Wildlife Preserve.

Captain Mike named the Kahsteen after a Tlingit woman who sacrificed herself to save her clan after a young girl foolishly called down the glacier. Someone had to stay behind when the glacier came looking for the person who called it. They believed that Kahsteen continued to live under the glacier and that the sparkles in the water from the falling ice were her children.

Captain Mike, a former Park Service ranger and commercial fisherman, has operated boats here for over 30 years and he knows his territory. He took us to a place where the sea lions hauled out on the rocks and one where the water was dotted with otters. We visited a bay where we saw humpback whales spouting and flashing their tails. We saw bears, and eagles, and a lone wolf on the shore. We anchored in secluded coves where we watched huge chunks of ice break off the creaking and groaning glaciers and splash into the sea with a great boom that the native Tlingit called white thunder.

The whole structure above the dark area on the glacier, which Captain Mike estimated to be the size of a 10-story building, came crashing down as we watched.

Most of the time we were completely alone, as the bigger boats and cruise ships couldn’t come into these places. I had the feeling that we were seeing everything just as it looked to the first inhabitants and to the early navigators who explored here.

On shore, Pat found a sample of the kind of kelp used for pickles at the Gustavus Inn. The long tube is sliced crosswise and cooked with sugar to make very crisp, sweet pickles.

Captain Mike’s daughter, Megan, a natural beauty as well as a natural cook, kept us well-fed and happy on our cruise.

The cozy cabin was warmed by the cooking stove and filled with the enticing aromas of chopped herbs and garlic, hot bread, and fresh coffee. Everything was made from scratch and she didn’t seem to use recipes, except perhaps for the chocolate chip cookies that were served hot from the oven as a mid-afternoon snack. She had the timing and organization of a master chef, chopping, baking, and cooking in the small space with five other people underfoot. There was bacon for breakfast, but the focus of the other meals was seafood: salmon chowder, fish tacos with fresh salsa, and cioppino with olive bread for lunch; our three-course dinners featured grilled salmon and steamed crabs and included wine and dessert: cheesecake the first night and rhubarb crisp with ice cream the second. (I asked her where she learned to cook—she said, “here and there.” Her stepmother, who drove us back to the airport, said Megan had always been an intuitive cook; that she could tell when spaghetti was al dente just by looking at it when she was 11 years old—she attributed the talent to Mike’s Italian roots.)

More pictures of Glacier Bay, Mike, and Megan are available on the Kahsteen Website here: http://www.gustavusmarinecharters.com/kahsteen.php and on the National Park Service site here: http://www.terragalleria.com/parks/np.glacier-bay.html.
Next: Our first of many close encounters with a bear and very expensive pizza.
(C) 2008, Judy Barnes Baker

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